I grew up in a suburban town in New Jersey on a street that dead-ended in a forest of trees. The houses were modest, but sat on relatively large plots of land that spilled into one another. No fences to define boundaries. My best friend — and my first kiss — lived in the house behind ours, and we along with all the children in the neighborhood would play together outside for hours. Summers consisted of three-legged races, block parties and running through sprinklers; we had Easter egg hunts in the spring; built snow forts in the winter; and delighted in the autumn ritual of jumping into huge piles of fallen leaves.
Until recently, I had forgotten all of this. The dominant narrative of my childhood memories became the divorce, the custody battle and the pain of leaving my home, my friends and especially my dog. Over time, fantasies displaced my memories, as I imagined living in a close-knit community, romanticizing what I imagined small-town life to be like, and tearfully watching re-runs of "Little House on the Prairie" and recently BBC’s "Larkrise to Candleford," both of which depict idyllic 19th century rural towns, where neighbors know each other by name, share meals together and look out for one another.
In other words: my dream.
Recently, my husband and I moved into a new neighborhood and learned very quickly how special it is. We didn’t buy the house knowing there were weekly happy hours in the summer, cookie exchange parties around the holidays and spontaneous gatherings in front of each other’s houses as a matter of course – but here I was – here I am – living a real-life version of what I thought was possible only in my imagination or in fiction.
And then I remembered. The neighborhood of my childhood. I realized that all these years, I wasn’t trying to capture something I hadn’t experienced before; I was trying to return to something I had loved. I created my past through selective memory, but now I get to have the best of all worlds: the fantasy, the memory and the reality.
With a perspective, this is Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.
Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is an Oakland-based author and teacher on compassionate living.